Freelance the Migrant Worker Way

Migrant worker from Anhui

Migrant worker from Anhui

Drifting about Shanghai last Saturday, a few blocks north of the textile market, I stumbled across a group of workers loitering on the curb, blocked from the afternoon sun by a looming concrete skyscraper either half built or half abandoned. It wasn’t an all together new sight for me in the city, but this time I felt that the occasion merited a bit of research. The workers, both men and women, display placards advertising their particular trade skills for any potential clients that might pass by.

I scouted out a friendly face amongst them and subsequently struck up a conversation with a bright-eyed women from Anhui. She has been freelancing her trade skills for the past 10 years in Shanghai and told me that money earned from the jobs she finds makes for a pretty good life. Her placard listed an assortment of jobs she was ostensibly experienced at, including digging holes, carpentry, brick laying, plumbing and wiring, painting, floor waxing, wall building and demolishing, and drain cleaning. She told me a day’s work as a carpenter would bring in about 200RMB (about $30), which seems to be a fair wage, depending on the task of course.

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